Clever as a ...

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Paula Fox's Desperate Characters is an amazing 1970 novel about Brooklyn-brownstone renovators, marital meltdowns and a feral cat. Its portrait of a pregentrified Boerum Hill has helped it wind up on many an outer-borough enthusiast's bookshelf. But the book would be awesome even if she had written about Houston, or wherever. Its scalpel-sharp dissections of its characters has won Fox a fan club that includes Jonathan Lethem, Lynne Tillman and David Foster Wallace.

Fox is more than a novelist—she's a children's-book author, the grandmother of Courtney Love. And most recently, a memoirist. Borrowed Finery is a steady-handed remembrance of her childhood, some of which was spent at an orphanage. Her second memoir, which she'll be discussing tonight at Symphony Space at 6:30, is called The Coldest Winter, and it describes her experiences as a young reporter in Europe just after World War II. The specter of atrocity looms over this book, but Fox has always had a gift for facing terrible events with a mix of blunt honesty and casual intelligence. Her talk about postwar Europe and memory should not be missed.

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